I need to write an essay which compares and contrasts the following two poems. I should focus on style(connotation/denotation, diction, poetic devices, and all other elements of poetry), tone, and theme, "while addressing the complexities of each" my prompt says.
The following two poems are: "The Death of a Soldier" by Wallace Stevens and "Look Down, Fair Moon" by Walt Whitman. (You can find them on Google).
What I have gotten so far:
The tone of Stevens' poem is jaded bitterness. Theme is the inevitability of death? There is the autumn imagery used to portray death. I don't really understand the style of it. I can see short, blunt sentences are used, but how do you determine style from that?
For the second poem, personification is one poetic device used, as the moon is personified. Our teacher wants us to be very specific with tone. And, I kind of get an eerie, cold feeling from this tone, but I can't find a "tone word" to fit this poem. That's all I can analyze from this poem. It's so short.
I am also having trouble with what my teacher means by "address the complexities of each."
I tried my best to analyze these on my own, but I'm having a really hard time because I feel like there's so much I'm not seeing. Any help will be greatly appreciated!
2 Answers | Add Yours
This is something of a tough assignment, but don't get too caught up in finding the one right answer. I'll try to help with the Stevens' poem.
The Stevens poem offers a more conversational or colloquial tone which is in keeping with the poem's attitude toward death, which you correctly identify, I think, as one of inevitability. The statement of the poem seems to be that death for a soldier is part of the nature of being a soldier. There are no suprises. It is like autumn, an inevitable consequence of the earth's movement around the sun. This is a poem of passing, spoken in passing, concerned with passing and using images of clouds passing.
In this poem we can see a use of repitition and some irony (this is a poem about how the death of a soldier doesn't really get any attention, yet the poem is giving attention to the death of the soldier). We begin to see in this irony some of the complexity of the poem. A further complexity comes in the arbitrary nature of the difference between the "three days pomp" of a non-soldiers' death and the lack of that pomp for the soldier.
We can read this poem as suggesting that all people are like the soldier, death is expected and inevitable. We are all caught up in the exact same fate. Yet there is an implication that the "three days pomp", the funeral rites, etc., given to non-soldiers are indicative of a failure to connect our own fate and nature to that of the soldier. There is a subtle suggestion that we should all see our own fate as identical with the soldier's and see it as part of our nature too, but we don't.
Identifying the tone of the poem as jaded bitterness seems to be overstating things and kind of missing the point. This poem is not about soldiers, it's about the human condition.
Whitman's poem juxtaposes a very peaceful image of night, and moonlight, falling on dead bodies after a battle with the grotesque image of the disfigured corpses themselves. Nightfall is given an almost liquid quality, which connotes the ability to wash away the day's horrors.
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